For the second year in a row, McDonald’s shareholders voted down a resolution asking the company to assess its impact on public health. With fast food increasingly linked to diet-related diseases and childhood obesity, Corporate Accountability International partnered with more than 2,500 health professionals and institutions who are urging McDonald’s to stop marketing junk food to children.
The resolution supported by 6.4 percent of shareholders (up from 5.9 percent last year) requested:
…that the Board of Directors issue a report, at reasonable expense and excluding proprietary information, within six months of the 2012 annual meeting, assessing the company’s policy responses to growing evidence of linkages between fast food and childhood obesity, diet-related diseases and other impacts on children’s health. Such report should include an assessment of the potential impacts of public concerns and evolving public policy on the company’s finances and operations.
Dr. Andrew Bremer, a pediatric endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, had this to say at the shareholder meeting:
McDonald’s can no longer ignore the spiraling costs of its business practices on our children’s health and on our healthcare system. This issue is not only critical to the health and well-being of generations to come, but also to shareholders who should be better informed about the liabilities associated with the businesses they’re investing in.
Maureen Morrison in Advertising Age quoted the company’s response:
We offer a variety of food choices to our customers; provide nutrition information about our menu items in a variety of accessible ways so that families can make informed decisions; communicate with children in a responsible manner through age appropriate marketing and promotional activities; and encourage children and families to live balanced, active lifestyles.
The new CEO, Don Thompson, who takes over the helm in July, is already chafing under accusations about the company’s contribution to diet-linked diseases and increasing obesity in children. According to Tiffany Hsu of the Los Angeles Times, he told the meeting,
I love my children dearly. I would never do anything to hurt them or any other children, nor would we as a corporation. Please do me the honor of not associating us with doing something that is damaging to children. We have been very responsible…. Please understand the good that we’ve done.
That is a noble sentiment, but the Full Menu Explorer on the McDonald’s Web site is a graphic indication of the company’s dietary priorities. Healthy choices are a minority add-on, not the focus. McDonald’s has made improvements in nutrition, sustainability and animal welfare, but has a long way to go on all three counts.
McDonald’s is an industry leader, but this leopard would have to change more than a few spots to become a true model of corporate commitment to healthy people on a healthy planet. Sara Deon, campaign director for Corporate Accountability International, put it bluntly in her submission. Addressing Jim Skinner, McDonald’s outgoing CEO, she said:
Mr. Skinner, your tenure may have been good for McDonald’s profits, but this has come at the expense of our kids’ health. Parents and health professionals globally urge you to take Ronald McDonald, and the suite of McDonald’s predatory marketing practices, into retirement with you. As a going away gift to the public, will you and McDonald’s finally stop interfering in public health policy and stop marketing to kids a brand that is burdening a generation with chronic, diet-related disease?
The answer, we know now, was a resounding NO.
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